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Fear, history, stigma and bias in the COVID-19 pandemic

Kupietz K, Gray L. Fear, history, stigma, and bias in the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Emergency Management. 2021 Special Issue on COVID-19. doi: 10.5055/jem.0541. PMID: 34723361.


The greatest enemy of a global pandemic is not the virus itself, but the fear, rumor, and stigma that envelopes people. This article explores the context and history of fear and stigma relating to pandemic, summarizing key actions to mitigate the harms during an active pandemic.

Our article draws from accounts in literature and journalist accounts documenting the relationship between infectious diseases and major disease outbreaks that have garnered fear and stigmatization.

Fear, stigma, and discrimination are not new concepts for pandemics. These social effects run the risk of diverting attention from the presenting disease and government responses. Reactions to fear, stigma, and discrimination risk sabotaging effective efforts to contain, manage, and eradicate the disease.

Emergency managers have an important role in dispelling myths, disseminating appropriate and evidence-based information without exacerbating fears. Knowledge about the roots of fear and bias along with a good understanding of historical plagues and pandemics is vital to ensure those in the field of emergency management can effectively manage irrational fears.

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